Almost 1,500 federal government computers were stolen between 1998 and 2002, a parliamentary inquiry has revealed.
The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit found computer theft was rampant within government departments and expressed serious worries about the management and integrity of electronic information.
The inquiry originally focused on the electronic protection of information held by Commonwealth agencies but soon learned the more fundamental problem was the physical security of computers and the information held on them.
Amongst the findings, the Committee chair Bob Charles said the inquiry was angered to learn about the theft of IT equipment from an Australian Customs Service facility at Sydney airport through the media, rather than from Customs officials -- who had appeared before the Committee the previous day.
"In its determination to investigate the scale of the security problem the committee wrote to all departments seeking details of their security breaches and thefts of IT equipment," he said.
"The committee discovered that between 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth agencies lost almost 950 laptop computers alone. This figure does not include an unknown proportion of the 537 computers of all types lost by the Department of Defence during the period."
Shadow Minister for IT Senator Kate Lundy said the inquiry had shown the neglect perpetrated by the federal government in relation to information systems.
"The Howard government has spent a lot of time and energy purporting to be a government concerned about security. However, when tested, the Howard government has little credibility on the home front," she told the Senate, according to Hansard.